Alexander Edwards was probably, at 60, the oldest man with a local connection to die due to the war. Like most of the other older men to die, he died at sea. We only know about him from this family grave at St Bridget, West Kirby,
Edwards family grave at St Bridget, West Kirby
Alexander Edwards was born about 1857 in the Royal Burgh of Newburgh in the Kingdom of Fife, Scotland. Newburgh is on the north coast of Fife, on the Firth of Tay. He was the second son of Johnston Edwards (1830-???) and Betsy Cameron (1829-???) and had 2 younger sisters. His grandfather, David Edwards, was a ship owner, and had probably been to sea. Johnston Edwards went to sea at the very young age of 9 and rose to captain his father’s ships, being awarded his Master’s Certificate at the age of 23. He seems to have been involved in fairly small vessels in the coasting trade. He probably died at sea in the 1860s as he disappears from the record after 1861, and by 1871 Betsy is a widow earning her living by dressmaking.
Alexander’s older brother, David Edwards (1855-???) also went to sea at a young age and also became a Master like his father at the age of 23. After marrying he became a hotel keeper.
It is not known when Alexander went to sea, but by 1891 he was a marine engineer.
On 7 October 1884, Alexander married Christina Gilmour Garland (1862-1896) at St Mary, Walton on the Hill, Liverpool. Although they were married in Liverpool, Christina also came from Fife, being born at Moonzie a few miles east and inland of Newburgh. Her father Andrew Garland (1842-1898) came from and returned to Newburgh. He was a farmer who became a potato merchant. No doubt Alexander and Christina knew each other before they came to Liverpool. Christina was the eldest of at least 11 children.
Alexander and Christina had 4 children. Betsy (1885-1951) never married and is buried at St Bridget with her mother. Agnes (1885-1956) also remained a spinster. Louisa (1888-1957) married Gerald Graham and moved to Scotland. The only son, Johnston Edwards (1892-1977) became a forester and lived in Cumberland with his family.
Johnston was born in Liverpool, but by 1896 when Christina died the family had moved to West Kirby; their address is not known.
Alexander was remarried in the spring of 1900 to Sophia Seymour Mary May (1869-1957). Sophia’s family of miners originated in Cornwall, and over generations moved to South Wales. Some then moved to Yorkshire and some even to Chile.
There are some problems with this marriage as Sophia had married a John Reed in early 1890 in Birkenhead, and she had a daughter Sophia Seymour Mary Reed (1892-???) born in Bristol in early 1892. It is not known where Sophia and John were in 1891. No more is known of John, and it is possible that he deserted Sophia. In any event Sophia had a daughter registered as Lily Edwards (1899-1905) born in early 1899 in Bodfari, Flintshire (since 1974 Denbighshire), Wales.
At the 1901 census Alexander and Sophia were living at Wesley Villa in Bodfari with Louisa and Johnston from his first marriage and Sophia and Lily daughters of Sophia, all the children using the surname Edwards. Alexander was described as a ‘retired marine engineer’ but he was only aged 44.
In the autumn of 1905, Lily died in the Birkenhead registration district and in the autumn of 1907 a son, John Alexander Edwards (1907-???) was born at Egremont in Wallasey. By 1911 Alexander was back at sea as a marine engineer and he, Sophia and John were living at 5 Ladywood Drive, Seacombe. They subsequently moved to 5 Penywern Terrace, Magazines Promenade, New Brighton looking across the Mersey to Liverpool.
On 21 July 1917 Alexander was 2nd engineer on the SS Dafila. She was a new ship of 1754 gross tonnage, only launched in 1917 and registered in Cork, Ireland. She was en route from Valencia, Spain and Gibraltar to Liverpool with a cargo of iron ore and onions, when she was sunk without warning by a torpedo from U-boat 45 about 55 miles from the Fastnet Rock in the Western Approaches. There were only 2 fatalities, Alexander and a young Turkish fireman. Alexander was 60 years old.
U 45 was captained by Erich Sittenfeld and had previously had 28 ‘kills’ She only had one more before herself being sunk on 12 September 1917.
Alexander is commemorated on the Merchant Marine Memorial at Tower Hill, London, and on his first wife’s grave marker at St Bridget, West Kirby.
Tower Hill Memorial
Alexander left £1,833 in his will, worth around £150,000 at 2017 values. It is not known what happened subsequently to Sophia.
Alexander does not seem to have been awarded the Merchant Marine Medal to which it seemed probable that he would be entitled. The only reason why he might not have received it, would be if he had spent less than 6 months at sea since war was declared in 1914. Possibly he really had retired after 1911 and only went back to sea shortly before his death.
Alexander’s son, Johnston Edwards enlisted in the Scots Guards in December 1914, and landed in France in December 1915. In January 1918 he was gassed in France, and was awarded a Silver War Badge in September 1918, being finally discharged in December 1918. He married in October 1918 and resumed life as a forester, serving as an ARP warden in the Thirlmere District of Cumberland during the Second World War, by which time he was a head forester.
Birth: abt 1857 at Newburgh, Fife, Scotland
Death: 21 Jul 1917 at sea; torpedoed
Addresses: High Street, Newburgh, Fife (61); Sherbslefield (?), Newburgh, Fife (71); 28 Elin Road, Walton, Liverpool (91); Wesley Villa, Bodfari, Flintshire, Wales (01); 5 Ladywood Drive, Seacombe (11); 5 Penywern Terrace, Magazines Promenade, New Brighton (17)
Occupation: marine engineer
Unit: SS Dafura
Rank: 2nd engineer
Commemorated: Tower Hill Memorial, London; St Bridget graveyard, West Kirby
Sources: Census: 61, 71, 91, 01,11, Probate, ScotlandsPeople, CWGC